Comments come as Washington looks to Islamabad to push Taliban toward peace deal in Afghanistan
WASHINGTON ( WSJ ) —President Trump offered to help mediate the long-running Kashmir conflict between Pakistan and India as he met with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, while also touting U.S. military capabilities in Afghanistan.
After Mr. Khan said he would welcome Mr. Trump’s help mediating the conflict, the president said India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi had asked him to do the same and said he would gladly play a role.
“If I can help, I would love to be a mediator,” Mr. Trump said on Monday.
Both India and Pakistan have claimed the Kashmir region since the creation of Pakistan in 1947. Each country seized part of Kashmir, administering their portion ever since.
Mr. Khan publicly expressed concern this year that recent clashes between Pakistan and India would spiral into war. Pakistani and Indian jet fighters clashed in the skies above their disputed border, with each side claiming to have shot down at least one warplane and Pakistan capturing an Indian pilot.
The U.S. and other world powers urged restraint at the time, and Pakistan’s ambassador to the U.S., Asad Khan, called on the U.S. to step up its diplomatic efforts to avert a war.
Mr. Trump’s comments came on Monday as he welcomed Mr. Khan to the White House, where U.S. officials hope the president can persuade Pakistan to pressure the Afghan Taliban to agree to a cease-fire and hold direct talks with the Afghan government.
The meeting comes as Pakistan has been cooperating with the U.S. to press the Taliban to strike a peace deal, with the goal of allowing the U.S. to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan.
In his comments Monday, Mr. Trump called the duration of the war in Afghanistan “ridiculous” and issued repeated threats about U.S. military capabilities in Afghanistan.
“I could win that war in a week,” he said, adding that in that scenario, “Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the earth.” But he said he doesn’t want to risk the casualties of millions of people.
The U.S. approached the meeting with cautious optimism, a senior administration official said on Friday. The official said the U.S. was appreciative of Pakistan’s initial steps, but added: “We are reaching a critical juncture.”
“Khan is saying the right things,” the official said. “But what we really need to see to prove that this is something different are, you know, actual arrests and convictions, as well as evictions of those Taliban and Haqqani leaders who don’t support peace.” The Haqqani network is a major Taliban-aligned insurgent group in Afghanistan.
Mr. Khan’s visit, the official said, is an “opportunity to incentivize Pakistan to use its full leverage and influence with the Taliban to advance the peace process in Afghanistan.”
The meeting follows Mr. Trump’s decision last year to hold the first sustained U.S. talks with the Taliban, an approach Pakistani officials have advocated for years. Mr. Trump is seeking to conclude a deal with the Taliban by September—an agreement that could allow the U.S. to exit Afghanistan, where it has thousands of troops, a year before Mr. Trump seeks re-election.
Mr. Trump was set to hold a bilateral meeting with Mr. Khan in the Oval Office, followed by an expanded working lunch. The visit was scheduled to last a little over two hours.
The two leaders were set to discuss potential cooperation on trade, energy and women’s issues, the official said, describing the encounter as a rapport-building meeting.
Mr. Khan was sworn in in August after an unexpectedly strong showing in the country’s July 25 election. He campaigned to overturn a history of poor governance in Pakistan, a nation of 200 million people that has vacillated between civilian and military rule throughout its history, underperforming other emerging markets in Asia for decades.
The Pakistani prime minister was to be accompanied at the White House by his army chief, Gen. Qamar Bajwa, according to Pakistani officials. Pakistan’s military, which controls which policy toward Afghanistan and has long been accused by Washington of supporting the Taliban, has given strong backing to Mr. Khan.
Pakistan’s relations with the U.S. have been strained in recent years. While the Trump administration has been pressuring Pakistan to help forge a peace deal in Afghanistan, the administration’s alliance with Islamabad is being tested by the South Asian country’s growing economic dependence on China.
Pakistan has supported the Taliban since the mid-1990s as the best way to keep its rival India from exercising influence in Afghanistan, a relationship that has given Islamabad more leverage than any other country over the group.
Washington for years blamed Pakistan for providing haven to the insurgency, making a defeat impossible. In an attempt to coax Pakistan’s support, the Obama administration ramped up military and economic aid to $3 billion a year. But Pakistan saw it as against its interests to fight the Taliban, and ties soured. Mr. Trump’s administration cut aid to $71 million in the current financial year.
Mr. Trump has denounced Pakistan as a supporter of terrorism, and has sought international financial sanctions against it. In November, Mr. Trump tweeted that Pakistan receives billions of dollars in U.S. aid but the country’s leaders “do nothing for us.”
Mr. Khan retorted: “Pak has suffered enough fighting US’s war. Now we will do what is best for our people & our interests.”
A month later, Mr. Trump wrote to the Pakistani leader to seek his help with the Taliban peace talks.
Great meeting with the PM of Pakistan, Imran Khan. @ImranKhanPTI
In my opinion he and his government represent the best opportunity in decades to have a beneficial strategic relationship the US. This will help us secure Afghanistan and the region long-term. pic.twitter.com/sHN07H5Biv
— Lindsey Graham (@LindseyGrahamSC) July 22, 2019
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), a top ally of the president on Capitol Hill, played a key role in arranging the White House meeting, according to Pakistani officials. Mr. Graham said he was “blown away” by Mr. Khan when he visited Islamabad in January and praised what he saw as a change in Pakistan’s security policies.
Mr. Graham, who often golfs with the president, pledged at the time to urge the U.S. leader to see Mr. Khan. “I think they will hit it off. Similar personalities,” he said
Mr. Graham visited Mr. Khan in Washington on Monday at the residence of the Pakistani ambassador.
After the meeting, Mr. Graham said on Twitter: “In my opinion he and his government represent the best opportunity in decades to have a beneficial strategic relationship the U.S.”